BEDA submission to the European Commission’s consultation for the proposal on the New European Innovation Agenda

Brussels, 10 May 2022 – An EU Consultation on Call for evidence by pdr – a research institute within Cardiff Metropolitan University, the Deutscher Designtag, the umbrella organisation of 15 professional and trade associations and institutions of design in Germany, in cooperation with BEDA, the Bureau of European Design Associations.

The Bureau of European Design Associations, (BEDA) with over 50 member organisations across 28 countries in Europe, welcomes and supports the New Innovation Agenda with the aim to ‘to build on strong European foundations in research and innovation …to address the persistent gap in scale up that stymies the growth of European SME…to harness the potential of the full talent pool’. BEDA supports these ambitious goals to establish an innovation agenda for the benefit of all European member states across every society.

Design is one of the most accessible approaches to innovation. As a people-centred activity it creates desirable, usable products and services that are defined and delivered. Design is a cost-effective method of de-risking the innovation process by gaining insights into user needs in the first place and the ecosystem environment.

Through this consultation, BEDA welcomes the opportunity to highlight the following points to the European Commission: 

  • Scale up gap:
    Design is the bridge between basic, breakthrough and disruptive innovation and market success. Incremental innovation is at the core of the design process.
  • Framework conditions and policy making:
    Adopting a design approach to innovation policy-making would provide a collaborative way to bring together the technology, academia, users and markets.

Human- and planet-centred design are mindsets and methods which help to foster sustainable developments and added value for society.

  • Fragmentation of the ecosystem
    Pockets of design expertise should be mapped and invested in so that they can turn into regional strengths and motors of development and growth. Interdisciplinary collaboration between clusters of expertise should be fostered through a mission-oriented and challenge-based approach to innovation funding.
  • Talent development
    Creativity, critical thinking, emotional intelligence and complex problem solving, collaboration and agility will all be crucial in the constantly evolving competitive digital economy. Design is the key to those key competences.

To foster sustainable products, services and processes the role of design in the European Innovation Council should be strengthened. New efforts should be undertaken to collect pan-European data on the use of design in innovation processes and its effectiveness to de-risk market entries, market growth and lay the path for added value for society.

In detail we would like to highlight the following aspects:

Access to finance:

We highly welcome the mindset behind the formulated tasks of access to finance. Funding is key to supporting innovation projects, in particular in small and medium enterprises. Innovation processes in SMEs can be rather informal and weakly structured. They usually have no dedicated designers, user researchers or R&D specialists. SMEs have limited time to prioritise innovative projects over day-to-day tasks and small appetite for risk. Greater levels of funding would allow SMEs time to engage with the entire R&D process in a way that they would not usually have the capacity to do.

The funding is used to best effect and most impactful when it is provided in conjunction with other kinds of support. Design offers a perfect way to facilitate an innovation process from exploration of innovative concepts to prototype testing to make sure that the idea is viable, usable and desirable. Small organisations need an expert pre-intervention design consultancy and advice to help them better articulate their development needs and highlight  innovation paths. Such wrap-around support combined with finance increases the chances of success of an innovation project. As such, it also makes it more attractive to investors – from seed to up scaling. However, it needs to be noted that funding and innovation advisors need to have a good understanding of design to be able to explain its value and convince business owners/managers to take up a new project. So there is a need to increase the capacity of innovation advisors to be more aware of design.

That would potentially also help to eliminate a vicious circle of funding that some micro and small organisations tend to fall into, constantly chasing new external funding opportunities rather than developing a competitive and sustainable business model that allows them to grow and scale up.

Regulatory sandboxes and better innovation policy making: 

BEDA welcomes this approach as design has a standing tradition in developing through Living Labs (model regions and test areas) with iterative methodology processes, artefacts, services and policies. Hence, design supports governments across Europe in regulatory processes and policy making.

Design is an applied problem-solving method engaging users in the development process. As such, it offers a process to iteratively test and refine solutions before a full-scale launch. Design has been successfully tried and tested in policy innovation labs across Europe as a tool for empowering citizens to co-create, co-own and co-deliver public decisions and policies. Further adopting a design approach to innovation policy-making would provide a collaborative way to bring together the technology, academia, users and markets.

For more than a decade, design has been a feature in a number of European governments’ innovation policies. In 2010, design was highlighted as one of ten priorities in the European Commission’s ten-year plan ‘Innovation Union’: ‘Our strengths in design and creativity must be better exploited’. To expand upon these ambitions, the European Commission subsequently drafted its EU Action Plan for Design-driven Innovation including 13 action lines for all European countries and regions to develop design action plans and design support programmes. There has been a cascade effect from EU level to national level, to regional level, and in some cases even to local level. According to a survey by the Bureau of European Design Associations (BEDA, 2018), design featured in 21 of the 28 EU member states’ innovation policies and in 17 of their creative economy policies. This legacy needs to be continued to ensure consistency and further growth of this European speciality.

The role of design in the European Innovation Council should be strengthened. To do so new efforts should be undertaken to collect pan-European data on the use of design in innovation processes and its effectiveness.

Innovation ecosystem: 

The underlying justification for public intervention in the innovation processes comes from the Innovation Systems theory according to which the efficiency of the innovation processes depends on the quality of interrelated elements of the entire system. The Ecosystem approach looks broader and hinges on the rationale that any given system should not operate in isolation from the broader system in the country or region, it should be holistically integrated like biological ecosystems. An ecosystem is only as strong as its weakest component and all the components are interdependent; for example, if the education component is weak and a country is not producing graduates then that has an impact on all other aspects of the ecosystem. Similarly, if there are weak policy initiatives or a weak government support infrastructure then that has consequences for the other components and stimulating effective supply and demand.  

For the provision of innovation support to be most effective and deliver most value, a comprehensive approach including a mix of various mechanisms is required based on the local context and needs of stakeholders. An ecosystem approach allows policymakers to examine the interplay between the elements of the system jointly with stakeholders, while informing tangible policy action to strengthen the performance of the system.  Design not only has its ecosystem but also plays a key role across ecosystems as a horizontal capability.

There is a growing trend to focus on investing in strong, resilient ecosystems on a local level – creating clusters of expertise in specific sectors or supporting local placemaking, restoring local pride and investing in communities. Pockets of design expertise should be mapped and invested in so that they can turn into regional strengths and motors of development and growth. Interdisciplinary collaboration between clusters of expertise should be fostered through a mission-oriented and challenge-based approach to innovation funding.

Develop and retain talent: 

Creativity, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, complex problem solving, collaboration and agility will all be crucial in the constantly evolving competitive digital economy. 

Design plays a central role in the New European Bauhaus (NEB) initiative, dubbed “the soul of the European Green Deal” by the European Commission’s President Ursula von der Leyen. The New European Bauhaus is centred around the values of sustainability, aesthetics and inclusion, and the Commission invites the member states to use those values in their local strategies and to mobilise the relevant parts of their recovery and resilience plans, as well as the programmes under cohesion policy, to build a better future for everyone.

The global pandemic of the COVID19 virus made it evident that design skills are key in the pandemic and post-pandemic reality when adaptation and user-centred innovation are more important than ever. The process of green, digital and citizen-centred transformation should make design a priority on the European policy agenda. With such a big ambition for design in transformation processes, more investment needs to be made to ensure supply of high quality design skills that is going to meet the growing demand.

A recent report – ‘Together for Design’ (June 2020) by the Irish Expert Group Future Skills Needs found that the growth in demand for design jobs is already outperforming other professions and recommends to:

  • Strengthen a collective voice for leadership in design across enterprise, academia and the design community so that emerging and urgent issues can be anticipated and met;
  • Implement policy interventions to address skills shortages in design (such as provision of flexible education provision methods);
  • Enhance collaboration between education and enterprise – it is crucial for the design community to engage directly with educational institutions to facilitate developmental processes for educators and to support the emergence of new design disciplines and career options.
  • Develop career pathways in design and make sure that funding pathways can deliver additional design skills. 
  • Design in education – design should be better embedded in secondary school education and strategic design promoted in the post-secondary educational offerings.

The powerful impact of design can help to foster, create and sustain a robust, positive human- and planet-centred holistic view on the highly diverse and complex EU ecosystem – from engaging actors at various levels and innovation mindset  to market growth.